Psalm 2Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and his anointed, saying, 3 “Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us.” 4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; the LORD has them in derision. 5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, 6 “I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.” 7 I will tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you. 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” 10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. 11 Serve the LORD with fear, with trembling 12 kiss his feet, or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way; for his wrath is quickly kindled. Happy are all who take refuge in him.
Psalms 1 and 2 introduce the Psalter and while Psalm 1 highlights one of the major foci of the Jewish people, God’s law the Torah, Psalm 2 focuses on the Messiah, the Davidic King. Perhaps this Psalm was at one point used in coronations or in some other ritual setting within the nation of Israel or later the kingdom of Judah, and it reflects back upon some mystical time when Israel was an empire that ruled over vassal kings. There is an idealization of the dominion and power of the Davidic kingship which reached its peak under Solomon and would from that point forward be a small kingdom caught among the rise and falls of empires in Egypt, Assyria and Babylon. Even with the focus on the Lord’s anointed (literally the Lord’s messiah) the focus, as through out the Psalter, is taking refuge in the Lord.
For Christians this is one of the Psalms that has often been read through the image of Jesus, particularly verse 7 “You are my son; today I have begotten you” and while Christians should not forget that this Psalm originally refers back to a Davidic king part of the living witness of scriptures allows people to hear the words echoed in a new way in a new era. Yet if one is going to listen to this Psalm in terms of Jesus one does have to wrestle with the militaristic language of verse 9 (You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel) and yet this is not that much different from some of the triumphal language lifted up by Paul and others in the New Testament.
Psalm 1 and 2 taken together lift up the Torah and the Davidic King as two of the foci of the way of life outlined within the meditations contained within the Psalter and yet both Torah and King are to point back to the LORD. The linkage at the beginning of Psalm 1 (Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked) and the end of Psalm 2 (Happy are those who take refuge in him) joins the king and the law together as ways in which God establishes God’s rule among God’s people. As in many of the other Psalms the LORD will laugh at the movements of the nations and empires and for a nation that frequently found itself under duress from other kings and rulers perhaps this Psalm was its own revelation of God’s rule in, with and under the movements of the kings and empires around them. Perhaps like King Arthur for the Anglo-Saxon time it reflects back to the time of the once and future king, the one who was a ‘man after God’s own heart.’ To a simpler or perhaps better time. Perhaps it is a part of the imagination and story that allows the people to maintain their identity in the midst of dispersion and exile, of disillusioned hopes of rebuilding the temple and their loss of power and status in the world. Perhaps this was one more way in which they were able to see the shade pulled back and trust that the LORD was the one who was in control rather than the other gods and lords and powers. And perhaps it is wise to remember that the Psalter is poetry which attempts to express truth that transcends the situation that the people may have found themselves in. Or perhaps a more cynical approach would look at this as a form of self-aggrandizement of the Davidic kings, granting themselves divine authority and granting themselves a position of ‘sons of God’ in a way that the Caesars in Rome would later do in a different way.
I choose to read this in a non-cynical way. I am certainly influenced by the post-modern hermeneutic of suspicion but at a certain level I have had to learn to trust. To let the words wash over and to listen deeply for the wisdom in the poetry. The God of the Hebrew people, the same God the Christian people would come to know, was deeply involved in the world. Politics and power were not separate things but a part of the engaged and sacred reality of their God who engaged the world. A God who can laugh at the movement of armies and empires and who is their refuge and strength as Psalm 46 and other places will remind them. Who when the kings of the earth seem to be taking counsel against the chosen people in Zion or in all times and places throughout the world, who still reigns and holds those who rebel against God’s rule in derision. The one who reads and approaches and meditates on the Psalter as a way of understanding how God approached them in the earth find the blessedness (happiness) by taking refuge in this hope, this poetry and this narrative.